Posted: April 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

It’s storm season in Oklahoma, where I was born and raised.
I live one thousand miles away from there now, but I still get a little antsy this time of year.
I watch weather reports or talk to my sky watching family and friends who still live there.
I hear about the approaching storm and it fills me with an empathetic anxiousness.
It takes me back…
It takes me back to a storm.
It was April 24, 1993, and Diana and I were youth pastors at a church in Tulsa. We lived in a little bitty house on the church grounds. The house was roughly the exact same size and shape as an average shoe box.

It was a Saturday evening around 6:30 p.m., and I’d just gotten home from work. I worked at a bookstore. Diana, who we had just found out was pregnant, was away at a women’s conference in west Texas. I was all alone, and I had some big plans. I was going to eat some hearty, manly grub—a delicious and nutritious Hungry Man Salisbury steak TV dinner—and I was going to watch professional wrestling, drink root beer and make loud, offensive, manly noises. It doesn’t get much better than that.

When I got home I noticed the sky looked really weird. It was almost a surreal shade of gray. I turned on the TV, and the high-strung local weatherman was nervously talking about storm fronts and funnel clouds and possible tornadic activity. If you live in Oklahoma for any amount of time, you get used to the threat of tornadoes. I put my Hungry Man meal in the microwave and set the timer. I was about to assume my rightful position in the recliner with a remote control in my hand when the silence was broken by some loud sirens going off right outside.

Howard and Catherine Mabry, the pastors, lived right next door to us in an identical shoe box house. Howard and Catherine were great people who had been pastors for about 50 years. They loved people, and they loved Jesus.

When the sirens starting blaring, I called them, and Catherine answered. I said, “What is that?”

She replied, “Well, it’s a tornado.”

I said, “Oh, what do I do?”

She answered, “Get somewhere!” Then she hung up—evidently so she could get somewhere herself.

The wind was really picking up outside, so I decided I really ought to get somewhere, although I didn’t know where to get. I remembered hearing somewhere that the bathroom was the safest room in the house, which is reassuring because I spend a lot of time there. I ran in and knelt down by the tub.

The weather was actually getting pretty scary at this point. It was getting noisier, and the wind was getting stronger. I started praying hard and fast. I was pleading with God for protection. I just wanted to see my wife. I wanted to be around to meet my unborn child. I could hear and feel things banging up against the side of our little house. It sounded like a freight train was going right through our living room. I was facedown on our bathroom floor, shaking and shivering and crying out for divine assistance.

It’s during times like this, when all pretense and pride is stripped away, that you realize what’s really important in life. It’s just you and God and a storm, and you realize what matters most—and it wasn’t what I was wearing or driving. It didn’t matter where we lived or that we only had $2.37 in our checking account. It was pretty simple: What mattered was my family and my faith, and that was it.

Then just as quickly as the storm started, it ended, and there was a tangible stillness all around me. I lay there on the bathroom floor for a while. When I was able to finally get up, I realized our little house was intact.

I walked outside, and it looked almost like a war zone. Howard and Catherine were fine, although the tornado had demolished Catherine’s little storage building. She had kept 40 years worth of sewing and craft supplies in it, so there were strands of fabric everywhere. Broken glass and wood were everywhere. Large chunks of other people’s houses were in our front yards. The storm had knocked out the windows in our cars and knocked the steeple off the church. The wooden playground and jungle gym were totally gone. We walked around, trying to take it all in.

The tornado hit a large truck stop right across the highway from us. It killed 16 people there. People who were just trying to get home. These people were parents, grandparents, children, brothers, and sisters. They had plans and dreams, but these plans came to an ugly end on a spring day in Tulsa. The truck stop was totally wiped out. Twisted steel and destruction were everywhere. Yet right where the truck stop kitchen had been minutes before, there was a Styrofoam container of eggs just sitting there, and not one of the eggs was even cracked. It was as unexplainable as the ugly storm that had just passed.

I sat in my living room in the dark watching the fire trucks, ambulances, and helicopters come and go. I thought about how life can change in an instant. We make our plans, but in the blink of an eye, everything can be turned upside down.
The wisest investments are made in the things that matter most. When we’re shaken to our foundations, suddenly fashion, popularity, fame, and mutual funds don’t really matter at all. We’re left holding onto our faith, our family, and our friends.
And that’s about it.
If that’s what matters when the storm hits, why can’t we live for those things when everything is fine? Why do we allow ourselves to be distracted by things that don’t matter?
I’ve been through many storms since that day in 1993. They all take me back to a desperate little man lying on a bathroom floor and the clarity about what matters that I gained there.

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